The Boss Baby
Directed by Tom McGrath
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi, Steve Buschemi
True story: Just so happened that this week I decided to sit my son down and have “the talk” with him. Of course, this isn’t the 1950s and if you’re at all wise as a parent you know that there is no one “talk” but rather a continuing conversation about sexuality beginning as soon a they are old enough to understand minimal amounts about self-protection and appropriate and inappropriate behavior. This evolves into anatomical explanations and hopefully eventual discussions of consent, safe sex, and pleasure. Such a small part of this conversation is about babies, and it turns out, the “where do babies come from?” part is the simplest part of the whole conversation. My kid knew a bit, but it was time to be sure he knew a bit more, so we talked.
Against this backdrop, I took my son to see The Boss Baby, and while it certainly has its moments, I was just baffled by the entire premise of the plot. In this world babies are produced in some sort of corporate heaven by the aptly named Baby Corp. There’s no real discussion of exactly how babies are made; whether they’re assembled like dolls, poofed into existence by magic, or even created ex nihilo by God. I preferred to imagine some gruesome Matrix-esque hatchery occurring just off screen, but that’s just me.
Where the film starts is with already preassembled babies making their way down conveyor belts getting diapered and fitted with booties and pacifiers, until they come to some Wonka-es que quality control device that ensures the babies are proper babies and giggle when cootchie cooed. The ones who do are sent to families, the ones who are humorless are sent to management of Baby Corp.
Thus we get to the premise of the film. Baby Corp. the celestial corporatization of baby manufacturing, is run by an army of perpetual babies that are not cut out to be actual babies. They are kept babies by drinking a magic formula that keeps them babies forever. Now why Baby Corp needs to be run by babies is unclear, especially since the babies working there aren’t proper babies.
This is made even more confusing by the title character’s fear of losing his formula and actually being forced to grow up, even though he detests everything child like. My advice is to not think about it too much.
One of these management babies, the titular Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin) is sent to Earth in order to investigate Baby Corp’s main rival, PuppyCo, which is rumored to be introducing a new, even cuter, puppy, threatening to cut into Baby Corp’s market share and I guess profits?
If you are sitting there thinking, “wait, what’s a new kind of puppy?” Yeah, me too. Apparently not only babies, but puppies are also created, mass produced, and distributed by corporations. The macabre imagining of the lab in which a “new puppy” product line would be created is the stuff of horror. But in this film where corporations are responsible for life itself, this isn’t even wondered about.
So Boss Baby, which is essentially Baldwin’s character from 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy, imagined as a baby, comes into the home of two upper management employees of PuppyCo, known simply as Mom and Dad (given the way babies are manufactured in this universe, do parents even deserve names?). His arrival causes friction with Tim (Miles Bakshi), Mom and Dad’s seven year old boy.
The film essentially boils down to a movie about sibling jealousy toward new arrivals and how to overcome it. Tim is at first resentful, and then eager to get Boss Baby back to Baby Corp, until eventually learning to love and accept his little brother as an essential part of his life. I’m an only child, I have nothing to say about this aspect of the story except that the world is overpopulated, consider having only one child at least until we make the move to green energy.
Really though, what needs to be highlighted about this film is the vision of a world in which every aspect of life, including the creation of life itself, is managed by corporations. There is no God in the world of The Boss Baby, only the corporation. As an atheist I have no essential problem with God’s absence, but I do balk at replacing the concept of God with a corporation.
When Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God in his famous section 125 of his book The Gay Science, Christians freaked out so much that even 125 years later they felt a need to make a movie entitled God is Not Dead. But this film’s producers not only missed the point of film making (and likely Christianity) but they also misunderstood Nietzsche.
In his most famous iteration of the phrase, Nietzsche puts the claim “God is Dead,” in the mouth of a madman sermonizing a crowd of atheists in the marketplace. Sure, Nietzsche has plenty to say to people of faith, but in this passage specifically his message is for the “men of the marketplace.” The grounding nature of faith in the perfect creator at the center of all things cannot be dispensed with and replaced with something as trivial as market capitalism. The effect of the secularization of the western world is fundamentally destabilizing, but of course, in typical Nietzschean fashion, he welcomes the destabilization.
When I see a film like The Boss Baby I see the minds of the people Nietzsche ridiculed at work. “Well,” they say, “God is out of fashion, but we need babies to come from somewhere. I know! How about a big corporation in the sky!” Even as virulently anti-Christian as Nietzsche was he found this kind of thinking even more repulsive, and frankly, so do I.
Think of the metaphysics slipping through to all of those young impressionable minds in the theater watching this movie. The corporation runs everything. Even the enemy of the corporation is in fact another corporation. Life itself is simply a competition among different product launches and corporate bottom lines. Corporate capitalism becomes the fundamental structure of the entire cosmos.
You could almost redeem this film by saying, “Hey wait, doesn’t boss baby decide he wants a family after all?” Yes, he does, but in the final scene we see that the entirety of the film is a story told by an adult Tim to his daughter on the arrival of a little sister. His brother walks in and is basically boss baby grown up, i.e. Jack Donaghy. Nothing really changed in terms of value structure. It’s also hinted at that the new little sister is part of Baby Corp. (Do I smell a sequel? Yes, given this film’s success).
In general I really think Hollywood should get out of the “Where do babies come from?” story telling premise. For one, absent an overarching religious consensus, the metaphysics become ghastly. But more importantly, in a world where we have decided to treat sexuality as a focal point of our ethical concerns, do we really need films that treat human reproduction as some kind of fairy tale mystery? While certainly young kids don’t need detailed accounts of in utero development, should we really be actively obfuscating pregnancy and child birth? And for kids old enough to take it as a joke, why on earth would they find it funny? For his part, my son described the film’s premise as “weird” but thought there were humorous moments. So I don’t know. Enter at your own risk.